A/N: Here it is! The final chapter. Thank you all so, so much for the reviews and feedback! Hope you like the ending.

The only bad thing about sleeping with your friend, maybe your best friend, is that you don't know how the fuck you're supposed to act afterward.

It isn't so bad at school, since they're both busy getting ready for graduation and a final, end-of-the-year-and-also-the-original-gleeks concert. They see each other in the halls around groups of other people, and they act normal because they have to. The last thing Puck needs is anyone accusing him of sleeping with Rachel.


(Okay, three times.)


Then they graduate and it's summer again, and Puck's working crazy hours, cleaning pools and cutting lawns, because he needs the money for school. He was surprised when the partial scholarship came through, and all he's gotta do to keep it is be a member of the school choir, which is kind of lame, but it's not like it's anything he hasn't done before. Finn's going to be in the choir, too, so at least he won't have to do it alone. And anyway, Mr. Schue's reaction (total pride) was kind of worth it.

So he hasn't seen Rachel since their graduation ceremony, and that was a week and a half ago. He doesn't know if she's ignoring him or not, but it's kind of looking that way. The girl is the fucking queen of the silent treatment, he's learned that much over the last couple years.

And normally, he'd seek her out and make her talk and tell him what's going on with her, but he's a little sick of always being the one to have to break the silence. Especially this time, when he's pretty sure he did nothing wrong.

(Actually, her reaction to them sleeping together was pretty favourable, if he remembers correctly, and he knows he is, because he can't forget anything about that night, least of all the way she sighed out his name and tugged at his earlobe with her teeth. Vixen.)

And he is so supremely screwed, because now he can't stop thinking about her, absolutely can't get her out of his head, just in time for her to leave Lima and him behind.

He's cleaning her pool and her car isn't in the driveway, so he just assumes she's not home (she's so avoiding him). He's never, ever been the kind of guy who really wants to talk, but he's desperate for a fucking conversation so their friendship isn't ruined forever. He hopes it's not too late.

Not that he'd tell anyone but her, but he thinks he needs her, in whatever ways he can have her.

He's about halfway through the job when the sliding door opens and she walks out with two glasses of lemonade in her hands. She's got this light green dress on, and he smiles at her, but it's not like he really means to. He just can't help it.

"Here," she says, handing him the cool glass.

"Thanks." He takes a long sip and watches her watching him. Her cheeks turn pink (really? she's shy now?) and she looks to the ground. "So, you 'bout done avoiding me?"

"I wasn't avoiding you!" she says defensively. "It's not like you've called me, either."

"Rach," he says, his head tilted.

She sighs and shrugs her shoulders dramatically. "I'm just embarrassed."

"Why're you embarrassed? 'Cause I saw you naked and we..."

"Noah!" she whispers, glancing around. Her backyard is fenced in, and he knows her dads aren't home. He doesn't really know who she thinks might be listening. "I just don't...do that. I mean, I've only been with..."

"Yeah, I know," he says. He really doesn't want to be discussing Finn right now. He realizes she has no clue how to talk about this. He doesn't really, either.

"Did you ever think...that you and I would ever...?"

She looks up at him, eyes all soft, and he smirks at her. "I hoped."

"Noah, I'm serious," she says pleadingly. He swears she's like, two seconds from stomping her foot on the ground. He wouldn't be surprised. He's seen her do it before.

"I'm being serious. Look at you." And he does. He looks her up and down, taking in the length of her dress, her glowy skin, how her hair is all shiny and how she adjusts the strap of her dress when she notices he's checking her out.

"What does that mean?" she nearly whispers. She's smiling when his eyes make it back to her face.

"Fuck off. You know what it means." She shrugs her shoulder and he rolls his eyes. "You're sexy. You've always been sexy."

"So this was solely a physical thing, then."

He doesn't know if she sounds hurt or not, but he's not about to let her believe that's the truth. "Fuck. No," he says seriously. "Was it for you?"

He thinks he sounds hurt.

"No," she says, her eyes locking with his. They both smile a little bit and she takes a deep breath. He knows that means she's about to start spewing words at him until she can't breathe. "And no matter how lovely, or how much I enjoyed myself..."

"Yeah, you did," he interrupts, wiggling his eyebrows, and she sighs in frustration at the interruption.

"The fact remains that I'm leaving in just over a month and that makes everything absurdly complicated. And besides, we've already proven that a romantic relationship wouldn't work between us, several times actually, and so it's my belief that it's probably best if we just...store that night away as a wonderful, special memory."

(Several times? He doesn't really know where she's getting that from. Making out doesn't equal dating. He wants to ask why she's convinced they wouldn't work, but he doesn't want to freak her out.)

(Okay, fine. He doesn't want to think about all the reasons why they shouldn't be together. He certainly doesn't want her naming them.)

"So you don't wanna do it again," he states. He's just being clear, okay? Because if he could have a summer full of sex, he'd probably be all over that.

(But part of him thinks it'd break his heart if they did that and she left anyway. Which he knows she would, no matter what.)

"I don't think we should."

"But you want to."

"Noah, could you focus on the important thing here?" she requests.

"Oh, I think you wanting to fuck me again is pretty important," he says slyly. Wrong choice of words. She kind of blinks at him, and her face is all red, and he should really, really know by now that he can't talk to her like this. "Sorry."

"You're forgiven," she says. He laughs and pulls her into a hug. (He knows she's not going to answer now, but he really does want to know if she wants to sleep with him again.) "So are we friends again?"

"I didn't realize we'd stopped being friends," he says into her hair.

She laughs softly and wraps her arms around his torso, not caring that his shirt is soaked with sweat from his day of work.

"Good answer," she says softly.

She surprises him one day.

And it's a really, really good surprise.

First, she shuts off his alarm so it doesn't go off at 6:00 like it usually does.

Second, she climbs into bed with him and lets herself fall asleep. (And okay, he ends up with his arms around her, but it's just instinct, so whatever.)

Third, when she wakes him up and tells him she'll explain everything later, that he should get into the shower and she'll make breakfast. (He doesn't know what the fuck's going on, but he doesn't argue, because he's tired, and she looks hot in her denim shorts and white tee shirt and bed head, and he just really needs to get away from her and into the shower.)

Then, when he's got a mouthful of coffee and she's dishing eggs onto his plate, she tells him that she got them tickets to the Indians game, right behind home plate ("I have connections," she says, all sexy and coy when he asks.) When he asks about his job, she tells him she called all his clients and told them he wouldn't be coming today, but that he'd see them next week. He doesn't even care about losing a days' work, because this surprise? Really fucking great.

So they finish up their breakfast, and Rachel insists on cleaning the kitchen so she doesn't leave his mother with a mess, and Puck insists on driving. He compromises and they take her car, and, like always, they argue over the music selection the entire time.

They spend their day walking around and hanging out in Cleveland, and they eat at the same restaurant they did last summer, and their seats are so good that he keeps thanking her, and she laughs and tells him to thank her dad's boss, who has season tickets but is out of town.

Puck throws his arm around her shoulder as they walk to the car after the game, and her ponytail swishes against his arm, and she feels so tiny pressed up against him. She's just given him the best day, and he loves that these games are kind of their thing. She's so cute and smiley, and she wraps her arms around his waist, and he just can't stand the silence.

"I love you, you know that?" He says it all casual, because he doesn't mean it that way, but he certainly means it.

Rachel smiles up at him. "I know."

He just stares at her, waiting for her to say more, but she runs away, laughing, and he shakes his head at her until he gets to the car. She's standing there by the door when he unlocks it, and she leans up to kiss his cheek and says the words back to him.

It's the first time they've said them, in any capacity. It's not like he's in love with her, or she's in love with him, but whatever. He feels good, knowing that she knows.

Midway through July, he walks into her bedroom and notices that there are boxes packed, messes everywhere, and she's nowhere in sight. She doesn't leave for another two weeks. Leave it to Berry to be all hyper-organized and anal about her packing and moving and everything.

He knows she scored a single room. Her 'impeccable transcript and stunning audition tape' (her words) secured her among the select few who don't have roommates. And after she showed him the NYU dorms when they were in New York, he knows that's a really good thing. He saw those girls, and they all looked like Cheerios, just in jeans and button down shirts and whatever (okay, the ones he saw anyway) and he doesn't want Rachel to have to deal with any of the same shit she had to deal with at the beginning of her high school years. (What? He cares.)

And also, with the amount of rehearsing she does, any roommate of hers would probably smother her in her sleep, and he doesn't really want that happening, either.

Looking around her room now, he's a little freaked out, because it's a disaster (and it's never, ever a disaster; he's often wondered how the hell she keeps the thing so clean). And also because she's nowhere to be seen.

"Rach?" he says. Her dad is downstairs, and he sent Puck up, so he knows she's gotta be here somewhere. "Berry!"

He hears a sniffle, then, "in here," coming from the closet, and when he looks through the door, he sees her sitting there with clothes piled around her, some folded, some not. She's got a red tee shirt in her hands and tears on her cheeks.

So much for his suggestion that they go over to Artie's place where everyone's hanging out for the night to enjoy a horror movie marathon.

She wipes at her cheeks and tries to smile at him, but it doesn't work, and he sits down next to her, wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her against him. "What's this?"

"I'm packing."

"I see that," he says with a laugh.

"I'm cleaning stuff out first, giving it to Goodwill," she explains.


"You know what this is?" she asks, holding the shirt in her hands. He shrugs and looks at her questioningly. "This is the shirt I wore the first time we performed Don't Stop Believin'."

"Oh yeah," he laughs. She glances at him with her brow furrowed. "Oh. Right. I uh...I saw you guys. In the auditorium."

"You did?" she breathes out. Her eyes are all soft now, like she...admires him or something.

He shrugs his shoulder. "I wanted to see what the big deal was. Why Finn was ditching us. Then I saw him with his hands all over you, and you looking at him like you wanted to fucking devour him, and I..."

"Hey!" she laughs.

"Please. I'm surprised you didn't jump on him right there on stage," he says. Her cheeks go red and Puck laughs. (He's heard all about she and Finn's first kiss.) "So why are you sitting here crying over a tee shirt?"

"It's not the tee shirt," she tells him. "It's just...it's all over, Noah. High school, glee, all of it."

"Well, it happens, Berry. It's called growing up."

"I don't wanna grow up." She's literally pouting. He can see her bottom lip poking out.

(He resists the urge to kiss her.)

"Well, I hate to tell ya, but you have to, babe," he says. She wipes at her eyes again and throws the tee shirt on the top of her 'To Keep, But Staying In Lima' pile. (And yes, she's got them labeled in pink Sharpie on pieces of paper.) And then she starts laughing. Like, really laughing. It's freaking him out. "What?"

"I always end up crying in front of you," she manages. He laughs and kisses the top of her head.

"I know," he says. "You've gotta fucking stop that one of these days."

She shoves at him, then stands up and extends her hand to help him up, though they both know very well that he can manage on his own. He stands in front of her and sees a little plaid skirt on a hanger, and when he leans forward to grab it, she doesn't move. His chest brushes against hers and when he pulls away, she's looking up at him like...well, like she's about to jump on him right then and there. He holds the skirt between them and smirks at her before tossing it onto the same pile as her red tee shirt.

"Why'd you do that? I like that skirt," she says.

"Oh, so do I. That's why it's staying right here," he says, his voice low.


"You're only allowed to wear that around me," he insists. She's sure he isn't joking.

"Why? So you can fixate on my legs and fantasize like a school boy?"

He smiles and nods. "Exactly." She rolls her eyes and walks away from him, into her room. She moves a couple boxes aside to clear a better path to the door. "You wanna go watch people get murdered and stuff? Artie's place. I said I'd convince you."

"I hate graphic violence," she reminds him.

"Which is exactly why they sent me," he says. "I'm the only one awesome enough to be able to make you do it."

(He can hear the innuendo in his phrase, but she doesn't notice it.)

"Or, we could stay here and you could help me with this stuff," she says, gesturing around her messy room.

"Or," he says, pulling a few things off her bed and tossing them onto the floor, "we could stay here and you could not force me into being your bitch."

She rolls her eyes, but when he lays down on her bed, shoving at her pillows so almost all of them are behind him, she smiles and walks towards her DVD player. He doesn't ask questions. She comes back over and lays down next to him, linking her arm through his.

"You're right. A night in with you watching The Way We Were sounds perfect," she says dreamily, and she laughs when he tries to pull away from her to stand up. She just locks her arm around his, and they both know he could really get away if he wanted to, but he just sighs and flops back against the pillows.

"Fine. But you fucking owe me," he mumbles. She laughs and leans up, kissing the side of his mouth as the opening credits roll.

The truth is, he doesn't hate the movie (whatever, she made him watch it once before) and it's kind of nice to just lay there with her.

She's happy to spend the night alone with him. The boxes in her room are forcing her, for the first time, to accept the reality that she's really leaving.

She almost tears up (it seems that's all she's been doing this summer) when Quinn insists on throwing a going away party for her. She's the first of any of them to leave, and she's the one going the furthest away, one of two going out of state. Kurt is going to school in Chicago, but everyone else is spreading around Ohio. Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, mostly.

So at first the thinks it's just an excuse for a party, but then she remembers that these people really are all her friends, and when she's talking to Quinn and Brittany and they tell her that they're going to miss her, she thinks she's been crying way too much this summer. She decides that from here on out, she's going to harness her emotions and store them for a later date, like any good actress does.

After all, her drama and music classes will be starting in mere weeks, and she needs to be prepared. She isn't sure what the talent levels of her classmates will be, but she wants to prove that she belongs, because she so does.

They plan the party for the night before she leaves, and they have it at Santana's house, since for the last couple years, that's been their go-to party location. Her parents are away a lot, and even when they're home, they don't really care who comes over or what they do, as long as no one drives after they've been drinking.

All her stuff is packed into a U-Haul trailer, save for a few outfits in her closet and a travel bag for the ride to New York. She's talked to everyone, and they've all committed to coming, saying they're going to miss her so much, and she can already tell that the night is going to be full of a lot of emotions.

She's trying to find something - anything - to wear, and as she rifles through her closet, she comes upon that little plaid skirt that Noah seemed to like so much, and she laughs softly when she takes it off the hanger and tosses it on to her bed. She searches for a top, and since it's approximately 90 degrees outside, she settles on a plain black camisole. She grabs a cute little pair of strappy heels, which she thinks will look pretty good. She curls her hair a little more than she normally would, and grabs a black headband to secure it in place.

Finn picks her up, as discussed, and when she gets into his car, she notices that Quinn, Kurt and Tina are all squeezed together in the back, and they all laugh when they claim that Finn is their DD. Rachel can tell immediately that this was not Finn's choice, really (last she talked to him, he was going to crash at Santana's). Rachel feels all nostalgic, sitting in the passenger seat of Finn's car with 'gleeks' in the back, and when she glances over at him, he smiles at her as if he's thinking the same thing.

They walk into Santana's place and Artie, their designated bar-keep, smiles at her and passes her a martini. He doesn't drink, so he's always in charge of pouring and making sure no one gets crazy. They've really got this party thing down to a science. Matt and Mike are standing by the stereo, leaving through CDs that people have brought, and Mercedes is pouring chips into bowls. Brittany is dancing as she sips her vodka cooler, and Santana bounds down the stairs to say hello and assure everyone that her parents won't be coming downstairs for the rest of the night.

Rachel notices one person is absent. It's glaringly obvious. But she ignores it, because she's sure he'll show up eventually, and he's always telling her that it's way more badass to show up late to a party.

The drinks are flowing, as are the memories, and Mike puts on some crazy underground hip hop and pop and locks on the back deck, where they've been hanging out for the evening. He's trying to teach Finn some moves, but the same thing happens that always happens; Finn laughs at his own lack of coordination and leaves it to Mike, and then Matt gets up and does the robot. Some Beyoncé comes on, and then they all start talking about their first year in glee, and how she was kind of their mascot, they did so many of her songs.

They force Rachel to sing, and she rolls her eyes, but she's smiling, and they tell her to do Halo, because that's what they've been talking about (Mr. Schue's crazy wife and 'vitamins' and mash-ups). She says she'll do it if the guys - all of them, even Artie - do the Single Ladies routine, and they've all had enough to drink (well, except Finn and Artie) that they agree.

So Rachel belts out Halo (not the manic, drug-fueled version, but the slower original), and Kurt places his hand on his heart and Quinn tears up, and then Finn's saying his life is going to be so, so weird without her singing the soundtrack. It's just about the sweetest thing she's ever heard.

But there's another boy who says different, sweeter things, and he's still nowhere to be seen.

When she slips into the house to use the bathroom and get herself a refill, she finds herself behind a locked door, looking at herself in the mirror and holding her breath to keep from crying. It's almost midnight, and in her opinion, it's painfully clear that Noah isn't coming. She's leaving at 10:00 am, and there's no way in hell he's going to get a chance to see her before she goes.

He's not even going to say goodbye?

She heads to the kitchen, where there are an abundance of bottles lined up on the counter, and she reaches for the bottle of JD (it's his whiskey of choice) and takes a long swig. She doesn't even like whiskey.

But then, she doesn't like Noah very much right now either.

She doesn't even realize Quinn's in the kitchen until she sets the bottle on the counter and Quinn steps towards her. She sends the blonde a smile, but she knows it's not a convincing one.

"He'll be here," Quinn says knowingly.

Rachel's very close to asking what Quinn is talking about, but she figures she's past the point of playing dumb, and Quinn doesn't seem too concerned about the fact that Rachel obviously has some kind of relationship with Noah. In fact, Quinn has been asking for details since they got back to New York. Rachel's glad she's a good enough actress that when she says, "There are no details," Quinn believes her.

"I don't think so," Rachel says, shaking her head. She throws her arm around Quinn's shoulder and grabs a drink for each of them. "Who cares! His loss."

Quinn laughs (Rachel can tell she doesn't really mean it), and they head back outside, but Rachel knows her smile isn't as bright as it should be, and she's not having as much fun as she should be, and for the first time in years, she hates him a little bit. He's letting her down, and he has to know it.

She knows saying goodbye to him is going to be hard, but she still wants to do it.

It's 2:00 by the time they all start saying their goodbyes, and Rachel tries really hard not to cry, but she doesn't do a very good job. She hugs everyone, and it's stupid, because she'll be talking, texting, IM-ing, and emailing with them all, like, tomorrow, but it's sad, leaving this all behind.

Finn drives her home. Predictably, everyone else decided to stay at Santana's (happens every time, and Finn just rolls his eyes as he grabs his keys). They're pretty quiet in the car, because she's been drinking, and he's afraid to talk about her leaving. She can tell he doesn't really want it to happen (he's been trying to hide it, but after what he said tonight, she knows he's going to miss her a whole lot).

He walks her to the door and wraps her up on this big hug that she kind of melts into, and he kisses her forehead when he pulls away. He tells her to travel safe, text him when she gets there, and try not to forget about him when she starts living her fabulous New York life.

She waits until he's pulled off her street before she opens the door again, locking it behind her, and takes off down the street. She knows it's stupid, since it's the middle of the night, and her dads would absolutely kill her if they knew she was prowling around the neighbourhood alone at night.

But she has somewhere to be.

And she happens to have a key to his front door. (He gave it to her last summer, when her dads went away after Noah forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there was no way she could stay home alone.) She lets herself in quietly, though she really just feels like marching up the stairs and yelling at him for being such a jackass. She doesn't think his mom or Hannah would love it if they were woken up at this hour by one of her tirades.

She gets to his room and pushes open the door, and he's just laying there on his bed with a pair of headphones on. He's awake, and he looks at her like she's insane. He can tell by the way she's breathing that she's about to start crying any second.


"Don't," she whispers, shaking her head.

He looks her up and down. The skirt he loves, the little top, her hair, the heels. She looks so fucking good that it hurts. He hates his life, hates that he has to give her up to New York City.

"I just..."

She surprises him (and herself, a little bit) when she pulls her headband from her hair, then steps out of her shoes. She unzips her skirt and lets it fall to the floor, then she's pulling her shirt over her head and he's sitting up to look at her. All of her, and she's wearing just a black bra and matching underwear. He wishes he was the kind of guy who could say, 'no, you've been drinking,' but fuck that. He doesn't care.

She walks towards the bed and straddles his lap, and his hands find her thighs immediately. She runs her hands over his chest and gazes down at him, her brown eyes shimmering in the dim lighting of his room.

The glow of her skin, the way she's sitting on him and touching him, and the way she leans down to kiss him are all a harsh juxtaposition to the words she says next.

"I hate you." She says it against his lips, and when she pulls away just slightly, he leans up to kiss her again. "You're such a jerk." Her hands are braced above his shoulders, her hair falling around her face, though she flips it so it's over one shoulder (fuck, could she be any sexier?) "I wish you knew how it felt when I realized you weren't coming."

She kisses him, and he can't stop her, though he knows he should, since she's in about four million different emotional places. She's too good at this, and she's too beautiful, and she feels too amazing all pressed up against him. And she's leaving, and he hates it, and he needs to feel her in any way he can right now.

"I'm so sorry," he says softly, running his hand over her cheek. "I just...couldn't."

"Why?" she asks. She's sitting up again now, and it's so fucking hard to concentrate on her words when she's half naked and pushing up his tee shirt with her little hands.

"I didn't want to say goodbye," he admits. She almost doesn't hear him, he says it so quietly. "Not like that, in front of everybody."

He sits up so she can pull his shirt over his head, and once she's dropped it on the floor next to the bed, she takes his face in her hands and just barely grazes his lips with hers.

"Say it now," she says against his lips.

They're quiet, slow, and he worships her. It's like he's apologizing, holding on, and saying goodbye all at once, and he doesn't even care to think about how this isn't really him. He doesn't ever act like this (or so he likes to tell himself). She's been making him break his rules for years now, and he doesn't fucking care anymore. She's his exception, always, and oh, god, no one can make him feel like this. She's all legs wrapped around his waist and a hand at the back of his neck. His name whispered in his ear and her smooth skin beneath his hands.

She falls asleep in his arms, and he barely sleeps, because he doesn't really want to miss a second of time with her.

When he drives her home in the morning, her dads don't think anything of it, they just assume the kids stayed at Santana's house.

He stays while she showers, talking to her dads while he waits, and he wonders how much crying is going to be happening in New York when these two men leave their little girl there.

Brian and Mark are in the car to give the 'kids' some privacy, and Puck has never loved them more (no homo). He pulls Rachel into a hug, and he can feel her shoulders shake just a little bit. He tells her to stop being such a girl, but it doesn't sound like as much of a joke as he wants it to. He kisses her hair, then her forehead, then the corner of her mouth before he lets her go.

They don't say any more words. He knows she'll call him when she's settled, and she knows he'll text her soon enough.

He stands there in her driveway with his hands in his pockets, and there isn't a lump in his throat as the car rounds the corner at the end of the street.

There isn't.

Her first night alone in New York (her dads stayed at a hotel for a night so they could really help her get settled) she lays in her little dorm room bed, jumping at every little sound. There's a deadbolt and a chain on her door, but every time she hears footsteps in the hall, she swears it's someone coming to break into her room. It's stupid. Most students haven't even arrived yet, just the drama and music majors.

It's nearly 12:30 when she decides to call Noah.

He laughs at her when she tells him she's freaking out.

"But you were always home alone here," he reminds her.

"This is different," she insists. She doesn't say it, but it might just be because she had him to call if she got too spooked.

"Well, since you're being a total baby about this, I'll talk to you for a while and take your mind off it," he says.

Okay, so maybe she still does have him to call if she gets too spooked.

She lays back in her bed, the covers pulled up high, and as happy as she is to be in New York, there's a part of her that wishes (and might always wish) that she was with him.

Puck and Finn's moms got together at the beginning of the summer and decided that it'd be cheaper if they rented the boys an apartment off-campus. Puck wasn't really sure about all that, since rent isn't cheap and they have to pay for food and all that. He thinks it's probably just their moms' way of keeping them from slacking off in dorm rooms and whatever. But he doesn't really care, since the apartment is pretty awesome, and it's not too far away from campus.

Finn gets there a couple days before Puck, since he has a couple more days of work to squeeze in (which meant a few hundred more dollars in his pocket). When he arrives at the apartment, it's kind of a disaster, but it's pretty cool. They've got some furniture, mostly second hand, but it all seems to match (moms, he thinks) and despite the fact that there are boxes, both full and empty, laying around, the place is pretty nice.

It's not huge, just two bedrooms, a little kitchen, and a living room, but it's all they need. Finn is going on about the things in the neighbourhood as Puck unpacks his things, then they sip a couple beers together, celebrating their first night in their place.

When he's alone in his room, getting ready for bed, he reaches for his bag and pulls out a few things. A picture of his family, a picture of the New Directions at Nationals (shut up, he's proud of it). And a picture of he and Rachel.

That one goes in the center of his dresser, right across from his bed. He texts her to say he's settled. Even if his bedroom is a disaster and they can barely walk through the apartment, his room feels pretty comfortable now.

It surprises Rachel how easily she fits in. The people in her classes think she's insanely talented and smart, and funny, which is strange, because people are usually laughing at her, not with her. Some of the jokes she makes are repeated, ones Noah has told before, but they don't need to know that and neither does he. She thinks he'd kind of love it, though, if he knew. He'd probably take it as an honour.

But it's not even the students she knows from her classes. There are a few girls and a couple guys on her floor who she's been growing closer too. They're all in different courses, and they all have different interests, but for some reason, they all seem to get along really well. The guys think it's hilarious that Rachel's such a huge baseball fan (and she has a photo of she and Noah behind home plate at Progressive Field sitting on her bedside table). They get together and watch games, and her friend Evan is actually from Cleveland, so they have a standing date for any televised Indians games.

The girls go shopping or listen to music, and no one rolls their eyes when Rachel's contributions to their listening parties include Streisand or the soundtrack to Rent or Tommy. They all actually think it's amazing that she's so interested and versed in musical theater, and when they hear her sing for the first time (she's rehearsing for one of her classes, and all the practice rooms on campus were occupied, so she's forced to use her dorm room) they're kind of blown away and they fawn over her like she's the already the star she's desperate to be.

When she tells Noah all this, he actually laughs at her.

"What?" she asks. "Why are you laughing!?"

"Berry, everyone likes you," he says. "Everyone's always liked you." She scoffs and rolls her eyes, though she knows he can't see. "Okay, maybe not everyone and maybe not always, but it's not so crazy that people actually wanna hang out with you."

"But it is though!"

"You're fuckin' nuts," he says. It doesn't really bother her anymore when he says it, because it's something he's told her at least five hundred times since they started talking sophomore year. "You don't give yourself enough credit. I mean, your best friend is the biggest stud in McKinley history..."

She's laughing now, and he's glad she doesn't say something about him calling her his best friend. Or himself her best friend. Whatever.

The truth is, he doesn't know what the fuck they are, because they've slept together a handful of times, and they were practically dating (alright, so without the kissing and all that, but they hung out all the time) in the summer. Their goodbye was all emotional and intense.

And he misses her like fucking crazy.

"It's just nice not to have to explain myself and my motives. I don't have to defend my goals to anyone," she says seriously.

"You never did," he tells her. "You just thought you did."

There's a beat of silence and she smiles as she sits back in her desk chair. "Noah, are you getting all philosophical on me?"

(She's been teasing him for weeks because he chose philosophy as his elective; he actually thinks it's kind of awesome.)


"It's just nice. This is the first time I've ever made real friends," she says quietly, like she's embarrassed or something.

"Second, babe. I was the first," he insists. He's not sure it's entirely true, but fuck it. Finn was a shitty friend, way back in the beginning, and she's admitted that herself. (The guy toyed with her emotions and stuff, which Puck thinks is pretty shitty.)

She giggles and he smiles (he loves that sound, and he doesn't care who knows). "Yeah, you kind of were."

This choir and Finn are in is basically their college's version of a glee club, only their director isn't nearly as cool as Mr. Schue and their female lead isn't nearly as good as Rachel.

Being in the choir gives them the appearance of being both talented and sensitive, and they play rec football, and they have their own place off campus, and they both have their own cars.

Basically? They each have their pick of girls, and could probably have a few at the same time if they wanted. But Finn's too nice for that, and Puck's a little invested in someone else. Finn goes on a couple dates, but nothing ever really goes past making out on the couch (which Puck thinks is fucking weird, because, hello, they have bedrooms for a reason and he wants to watch some fucking Sportscenter).

He doesn't know how it's really possible, but Finn's never questioned Puck's relationship with Rachel. He thinks it's pretty obvious that they aren't 'just friends', but Finn hasn't noticed that, apparently. Puck doesn't really know what would happen if Finn found out. Sure, he was okay when he found out about them making out a couple summers ago, but as far as them having actual feelings for each other (Puck doesn't, can't, ignore it anymore) Puck doesn't know how all that'd go over.

But then, he and Rachel still haven't talked about anything, not seriously. He makes jokes about her sneaking into his bedroom and undressing, or him making her a prom night cliché, and she always squeals his name. He can practically hear her blushing over the phone line, and she tells him to stop trying to make her uncomfortable.

One night in October, she calls him, not at all expecting him to answer. They haven't spoken in a few days, and it's a Saturday night. She assumed he'd be out, and she'd just leave him a voicemail, and then she'd tuck into her bed and watch a movie or something. Her friends are all out for the evening, but she was too tired to go out.

"What are you doing home?" she asks when he answers and it's quiet, just his voice on the line.

"I have a midterm on Tuesday. Stayed home to study."

"Really?" she asks.

"Don't sound so surprised," he laughs. She should know by now that he actually puts effort into his schooling. She should know because she started forcing him to do it junior year. And he's pretty smart, actually. "What are you up to?"

"Nothing. I was invited to an underground club to watch some live techno DJ that Jamie knows, but it didn't seem like behaviour becoming a budding young starlet."

She rarely ever talks like this anymore. It makes him smile. "Yeah, skunked beer and tabs of E isn't really your scene."

"You think there would have been drugs there?" she asks.

"Uh, yeah. Definitely," he says with a laugh. She can be so naive sometimes. He likes to tell her she'd be lost without him. Maybe that's just wishful thinking on his part. "So you're just sitting around on a Saturday night? Pretty lame, Berry."

"Says the bookworm." She burrows down into her bed a little more. "It's so cold in my room, Noah. I had to buy an extra blanket for my bed. Of course, I had to get the only room on the floor without its own temperature control."

"Sucks," he mumbles.

He closes his book and sets it aside, then lays back against his pillows. Finn's out, Rachel's all alone. It's nearly midnight, and frankly, he's been pretty distracted lately. He hasn't had sex since the night before she left. (And that's his choice. It's not like he hasn't had opportunities, just hasn't taken advantage of them). And right now, her sweet voice coming through the phone line and telling him she's cold? That doesn't help.

"Yes, it's certainly not optimal."

"I know how to warm you up," he says with a smirk. He really doesn't think she'll go for it, but if not, he can at least play it off as a joke and she won't think anything of it.

"Really? Because I'll try almost anything at this point," she says. She almost sounds excited, and he tries not to laugh.

"Mhmm," he says. "What're you wearing?"

"Noah!" she gasps. She doesn't know why, but she glances towards her door to make sure it's locked.


"Are you...you're being serious," she states, more than asks.

"C'mon. You know it'd make you all hot," he says. His tone has dropped a little, and he smiles when he hears her take a breath.

"I'd rather be cold, thank you. I can't do that. I won't. And I'd be terrible at it anyway," she tells him. She's really trying to stand firm on this, but she's picturing him in his apartment (what? he sent photos...) and thinking about how much she misses him.

He grins and shakes his head. It was worth a try. "Probably for the best. You talk so much that I'd be asleep before you even told me you had your bra off."

He means it as a joke. She doesn't pick up on that. Or she really is naive.

"I'm not wearing a bra," she says without thinking. She blushes immediately and clasps her hand over her mouth. "You didn't hear that."

"Oh, I heard it," he says, laughing softly. "And you're already better at this than you think."


"Okay, if you're not gonna do this, then we've gotta change the subject, because you saying my name like that isn't helping," he tells her bluntly. There's complete silence for a moment, and he wonders if he's taken it too far, because despite the fact that they've slept together and they really don't have any secrets, he still knows she's not one to engage in dirty talk. (What? He's had enough experience with her to know that. And she's probably blushing right now.) "Rach?"

She bites her thumb nail (nervous habit) and remembers that she has no reason to be shy, since they've obviously engaged in similar activities alone. And the memory of that is what has her holding the phone a little closer and switching off her bedside lamp.

"Promise not to make fun of me?" Her voice is all soft and quiet, and she knows that there's no going back now. She's just agreed to it. She's already warmer. "This is my first time," she adds needlessly (or maybe because she just knows he'll love hearing her say it).

His heart races, and he knows he's grinning like an idiot, but fuck yes! "I promise, babe."

He doesn't make fun of her. He doesn't need to.

He thinks she's probably amazing at absolutely everything she does.

Before hanging up the phone (she's still breathing heavily through the line, telling him she's about to fall asleep like she always does; 'post-performance high' he calls it, and she never corrects him) he asks her how long it is until Thanksgiving. She asks why, and he tells her he's not fucking letting her out of his sight.

True to his word, they're pretty much attached at the hip when they both return to Lima for the long weekend. She actually gets a cheap flight to Columbus and he picks her up at the airport so they can drive home together. Since no one knows them and he doesn't give a fuck anyway, he kisses her at the arrivals gate, and she laughs and breathes out his name and looks around. She sits all pressed up against him in his truck on the way to Lima, her arm linked through his, and she doesn't know what's going on between them, but it feels like a really big deal.

He spends one night at her house. His mom doesn't notice, and hers are in bed when he shows up, and they kiss their entire way up the stairs to her bedroom, and she whispers I missed you's against his skin, and he honestly thinks he's going crazy with needing her.

The only time they really spend apart are their actual Thanksgiving dinners, and when Rachel's daddy asks her what's really going on with her and Noah, she blushes and smiles and can't help but admit to them for the first time that it's more than just a friendship. Her dads both smile and nod like they've known it all along.

When Puck picks her up to drive back to Columbus, he's got his hands in his pockets as he waits for her after dropping her things in the back of his truck. He watches her hug her dads, and then they hug him (he's kind of getting used to it by this point) and they're on their way.

The drive is too quiet, and she looks out the window. She's not sitting close to him, not holding his hand or anything, and the radio station is annoying him so he switches it off before they even get onto the highway.

It's forty minutes of silence before she looks over at him and asks, "are you sleeping with anyone?" When he smiles and turns to her, she adds, "besides me."

"No," he says seriously, like it's something she should already know. Given his high school reputation, he supposes he can't blame her for checking. "You better fucking not be either."

She laughs and moves towards him a little bit more, and kisses his cheek, her hand running through what little hair he has at the back of his neck. "Just you," she almost whispers.

He doesn't know if that means they're dating, or if she's his girlfriend, but he knows it's really complicated, because she's living in another state and all that. But her being his girlfriend wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Actually, he thinks it might be the best.

Finn catches on (it's only taken the guy like, a fucking year) and asks Puck what's going on with him and Rachel.

They're just walking through the door after spending some time at the gym, and Puck turns to face his friend. He doesn't really know what to say, but he doesn't want to lie either (see? he's growing) so he shrugs his shoulders and says he doesn't know.

Telling your best friend that you're having an undefined, exclusive, long-distance relationship with his ex would be pretty weird.

"You don't know? And she's okay with that?" Finn asks knowingly. They both know Rachel isn't really up for the grey area. She wants everything in black and white, or preferably, in technicolour.

"We don't really talk about it," Puck admits. "But...I like her, man. And she must like me too."

"Yeah, I got that part," Finn says with a smile.

"Whatever. Don't bug me about it."

"I'm not bugging you. I'm just curious. And also maybe wondering, why Rachel?" Finn asks.

Puck shoots him a glare. "What the fuck's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, it's just that she's my ex. And she's not your type. And you don't have much in common. Plus, there's that whole thing about you wanting to set yourself on fire when you were around her."

"That was fucking sophomore year, dude. And who cares if she's your ex?" Puck says defensively. It's clear that Finn either doesn't know Rachel, or doesn't know Puck. Or maybe he just doesn't know what they're like when they're together. "Whatever. Fuck it. I'm into her, and she's into me. It's no one else's fucking business."

He walks to his room and pulls off his shirt, throwing it towards the hamper, but missing completely. He wishes he hadn't just come from the gym, because wailing on a punching bag would be pretty awesome right now. Mostly because he can read between the lines of Finn's perpetually choppy sentences and see that he was basically saying Rachel's too good for Puck.

And she might be. But he's not about to point that out to anyone, and he's not going to let anyone else say it either.

He wonders if she really is psychic or something (he's always made fun of her for that, because really? just no), because she calls him at that exact moment, and he sighs before he answers the phone.

"What's wrong?" she asks upon hearing him.

(Okay, so maybe there's a little truth to her being able to sense things).


"Noah," she laughs. "I would have thought you'd know by now that you can't lie to me. I'd appreciate if you told me what's the matter."

"Finn just asked me about us," he says, flopping back on his bed. "He basically said you're too good for me."

"Oh," she says quietly. He doesn't know what she means by that. "Well, it's clear that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, then, isn't it?" He actually smiles. She never even says the 'h' word (as she calls it...god, she's a dork) and she's just used it now, getting all defensive of him and their relationship. "And since when do you care about what anyone else thinks anyway?"

"He's not just anybody else. He's my boy. He should support me," he tells mer. "I mean, it's fucked up, sure, because you two were...at one point..." She starts laughing. "What?"

"You can't even say it."

He sighs in frustration and rolls his eyes. "I don't want to think about you with anyone else, okay?"

"Okay," she says softly. She actually thinks that's pretty sweet of him to say. "Noah."


"I don't care what Finn says, or what anyone else says. I like you, and I want you. Is that enough for you?" she asks. She makes it sound like she isn't entirely sure, which he thinks is just insane, because she has to know that's fucking perfect for him.

"Yeah, Berry," he says quietly. "That's enough for me."

Her first Christmas home (Hanukkah, he corrects her, but he's sitting at her kitchen table with a mouthful of bacon, so she just rolls her eyes at him) she spends three whole weeks with her dads and her friends and Noah.

All the original 'gleeks' visit Mr. Schue at the school and watch a rehearsal he has with his new group, though some of the members are now seniors or juniors and were in the group the year before. Rachel walks the halls of the high school and comments on how it feels like it was a million years ago that she was there.

Her friends comment that she looks amazing, even more sure of herself (just in a less scary way, Kurt says) and somehow more laid back. They all swap stories about their schools and their friends, and Puck smiles at Rachel when no one else is looking. Other than Finn, no one else really knows that anything is going on. Quinn might, since it was always kind of the four of them that were the closest, but she doesn't say anything until she and Rachel are alone.

And then she presses for details and begs for information, and Rachel tells Quinn about prom night and the summer and Thanksgiving, and Quinn is practically giddy. (When Rachel tells Noah this, he says it's 'fucked' that Quinn is so gung-ho about Rachel banging her ex. Rachel's jaw drops and she swats his chest, and he just laughs and wraps her into his arms.)

The Berry's have the Puckermans over for dinner on Christmas Eve. They have a bunch of traditional Jewish food that Rachel's dads make, and Hannah wins over Brian and Mark in approximately two seconds. The six of them eat and drink and laugh, and Rachel takes Noah's hand beneath the table, and he can tell that she's really excited that their families are getting along.

Not bad for two people who aren't even officially a couple.

That changes the next day.

They're laying in his bed together (she came over for breakfast, but they have yet to eat...and that was two hours ago) and she's laying on her stomach, her cheek resting on her arm, and he's laying on his side, facing her. He's running his hand through her hair, and they're just kind of looking at one another, and if anyone saw him right now, they wouldn't believe how delicate he is with her. He doesn't give a fuck what anyone else thinks, though.

"I like your hair," he says. (Okay, so if anyone heard that and made a comment, he'd probably throw some hands.)

She laughs and lets herself enjoy the way he twirls a lock of her hair around his finger. "Thank you. Your hair is...unique."

He scoffs and pulls back from her a little bit. "Dude, my hair is fucking sweet."

"Don't call me dude, and watch your language."

He laughs this time, and she shifts a little bit, so she's on her side and holding the sheets to her chest. "C'mon. You've gotta be used to my dirty mouth by now."

"I'm fairly certain, judging by your tone, that you mean that in several ways, most of which I'm not going to address," she says. She's smiling, and he leans forward to kiss her. "I have learned to deal with your less than stellar vocabulary choices. That doesn't mean I have to enjoy it."

"Sure it does," he insists. He grins at her, and she's looking at him questioningly. She knows him well enough to know that this particular grin means something. "My girlfriend has to be able to enjoy a good fuck every now and again."

Her jaw drops again, and he laughs as he pulls her against his chest. When he glances down at her, her face is beet red. She looks so, so cute that he just pulls her closer and kisses the top of her head before she can tell him not to embarrass her like that.

"You called me your girlfriend," she says, her voice all muffled against his chest.


She pulls away and brushes the hair from her face (the sheet falls a little bit and Noah takes a deep breath before covering her up again; this is a serious conversation and he can't be distracted by her sexy nakedness.) "I'm your girlfriend?"

She's wearing this adorable little smile, one that makes him wonder whether or not she's gonna start crying, or kissing him. "Yeah, you're my girlfriend. What the hell did you think you were?"

"I don't know," she laughs. "You've never called me that. You only ever call me Berry, or babe. Or dude, apparently." He rolls his eyes and she kisses him, then lifts the sheet up so it's covering both their torsos and she's pressed up against him. "I think I'm going to like being called your girlfriend."

She's working on her role as lead in a school play, and she can't get home for spring break. He can't afford to, and doesn't really have the time to, go to New York, so he works his ass off while he's off from school (he's got a job at a local sporting goods store, and he's giving guitar lessons to snotty little kids whose parents'll pay him $25 an hour to practically babysit). He figures if he can save up enough money now, he might be able to take a long weekend or something and go see her.

He hates the distance. Absolutely hates it. It's stupid, really, because it's not even that far, but it's too far to make regular visits. He's never even seen where she lives, except the pictures she's sent him. But that's not the same as seeing it in person or laying in bed with her lazily like they've only gotten to do a couple times.

It's not that he regrets the way things have happened, really. He knows that they waited for a reason. Or at least that's what she says. He tells her they just took forever to get their shit together. Of course, she's just a little more eloquent when she reminds him that they never would have worked if they'd gotten together sooner.

He spends a crazy amount of time thinking about her.

Like, pretty much all of it.

They text constantly throughout the day, and she'll send him pictures of herself in all these New York places that he now knows from spending time with her there. Ones of her in Central Park (at the exact spot where the drank wine and watched the sun come up) and on the steps of the library. There's one of her, taken by one of her friends, walking through the snow, her hair blowing around her face as she laughs and carries a Starbucks cup. He's got that one set as the background on his phone. (Whatever. She looks hot.)

He thinks about her when he's performing and his crazy choir director tells them to feel it, not just sing it. Of course, he doesn't tell anyone, not even Rachel, that he thinks about her when he has to sing cheesy love songs.

And that's the thing, isn't it?

He didn't fall in love with her. He just is in love with her.

If anyone ever asked him when it happened, he'd tell them he has no fucking idea. It's just there, and maybe it's been there for a long time and he ignored it. He doesn't know. He knows nothing about love. Like, at all. But he knows, somehow, that he loves her.

And he's not going to say it for the first time over the fucking phone.

When he's asked (since he's fucking kicking ass in his classes) to intern on weekends in the athletic trainers' office on campus, his plans to get away and see his girl take a back seat. She understands and reminds him that they have a whole summer coming up to spend time together, but he knows she's as disappointed as he is. Which he's actually happy about. Because maybe that means that she feels the same way about him and he won't look like a fucking loser if he tells her he loves her, because there's a better chance that she'll say it back.

He's supposed to be studying for finals, and he is, but he's taking a break. He can hear Finn's industrial sized bag of Skittles rattling from the living room (the guy like, lives on Skittles when he's studying). He grabs his guitar and starts playing kind of lazily, just to give his brain something to focus on other than the muscles of the human leg and all the potential ways they could be injured, and how to remedy said injuries. A few simple chord progressions are the perfect mindless task to make him feel better and calm him down.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when his phone rings. He was sure he turned the thing off, but apparently not. He's about to grab it and tell whoever's calling to fuck off, but he sees Rachel (no longer Berry) flash across the screen and his anger dissipates. They'd agreed not to call one another until Saturday, since she writes her last final on Friday and he writes his last one on Monday.

"Hey babe," he says easily as he answers. She's sniffling and stuff. Shit. "What's wrong?"

She's seriously hysterical. He tries to understand what she's saying, and he can make out the words can't, trying, studying, stupid, failure, flunk, and hate me if I worked at Starbucks? and so he gets the gist.

"Rachel, slow down," he says calmly. "Take a deep breath before you fucking pass out."

(He's supportive, he is, but it's in his own way, and that way includes bluntness and cursing.)

She does as he tells her. (He's surprised too.) "I just...it's hard, Noah. Studying isn't helping, and I can't...I can't."

"Berry, you've been kicking ass all year," he reminds her. "You're going to be fine. You're just freaking out for no reason."

"But this semester, with the play and everything, I just feel like I've been distracted, and I can't...What if I fail?" She starts crying again, and he rolls his eyes, because even after all this time, the amount of insanity in this one little person is fucking mind blowing.

"You're not going to fail. I know you, babe. You're probably more prepared than anyone else in that whole fucking school," he says. She lets out a teary laugh (see, she does like a good 'fuck' every now and again). "Okay?"

"You're smart sometimes," she says lightly.

"I have some moments." She takes another deep breath and he strums his guitar lazily. "You alright now, or should I expect another call from you in like, a half hour, asking me if I'll still love you if you end up pouring coffee for a living?" There's complete silence on the other end of the line, and he thinks she might be crying again or something. "Rach?"

"Love me?" He drops his phone onto his guitar, which lets out a horrible sound, and he swears that if he had the ability, he'd kick his own fucking ass. He's such an idiot. He grabs his phone and holds it to his ear. She must be able to hear his breathing. "Noah?"

He could do one of two things. He could own up to it like a man and tell her that yes, he loves her, and doesn't she know that already? Or he could brush it off as a slip of the tongue and tell her he'll talk to her on the weekend and see her when they're both home in Lima on Wednesday.

Because he's the biggest jackass in the universe, he of course does the stupid thing.

"You know what I mean," he says, kind of scoffing.

"Right. Yeah," she says, and she's using that stage voice she has for when she's putting on a brave face and trying not to make it seem like she's disappointed.

So he tells her he loves her for the first time by accident, and then he takes it back.

Boyfriend of the fucking year.

Their conversations are strained. They don't talk again until the Saturday they'd originally planned to speak, and even then, it's just for 10 minutes. She tells him that she freaked out over nothing, and he laughs and tells her that of course she did. Then she says that she'll let him go, because she knows he's got to study. (And he's pretty sure that's code for, "You kind of broke my heart, you fucking moron, and it's hard for me to talk to you," but then he remembers that she doesn't curse, so maybe it's in his head.)

She doesn't know why he's the one acting so strange. She's the one whose boyfriend reneged on his I love you, or whatever that was, and she's the one left wondering why he doesn't love her. Or if he does, why he won't just say it. And which of those two things is worse?

She texts him a good luck on Monday, when she's waiting for her dads to arrive and help her with her things, then drive back to Ohio. Noah's reply is a curt 'thanks', and she doesn't hear from him again for three days.

When he calls her, she ignores the ringing of her phone (The Acafellas singing I Wanna Sex You Up, because he thought it was funny and appropriate) and decides to take a nap. She doesn't think she's ignored a call from him in over a year.

Puck can deal with a lot of shit where Rachel is concerned.

He can listen to her go on and on for literally fucking hours about absolutely nothing, because she's kind of cute when she gets all rambly, and every once in a while, he'll stop her to ask what a word means and actually learn something.

He can deal with her crazy goals and dreams about being in whatever play or musical.

He understands her need to be the best at absolutely everything she even attempts.

He knows that he can only ever buy her red roses after a performance (yeah, he sent her flowers after her play opened; whatever) because nothing else is appropriate for a boyfriend to give a girlfriend.

He even deals with her fucking pure insanity when she's (quote) crampy and miserable. (Like, seriously, she'll call him and complain for 20 minutes about how the dining hall doesn't have blueberry danishes, and all she wants in the whole world is a blueberry danish. That crazy.)

What he can't handle? The fucking silent treatment.

It's the summer. They're supposed to have fun and make out (etc.) like they always do in the summer, and they're supposed to actually be a couple, like they haven't been able to do yet.

And okay, he isn't a moron. He knows why she's being all distant and moody with him, and he can't really blame her, because yeah, he acted like an idiot. But if she'd just talk to him and let him explain, he'd tell her how he wants it to be special (fuck, he sounds like a tool) and he wants to be able to see her and kiss her when he tells her that he loves her.

He knows what time her dads lave for work in the morning, so he pulls into the driveway and asks if Rachel's home. They look at him kind of weird, like he should know that, since she's his girlfriend. He just gives them this pathetic (he knows it), sheepish look, and they tell him to head in. He's surprised they let him, since he'll obviously be alone with Rachel. He figures that either means that they aren't naive enough to think that he and Rachel aren't having sex, or they know that Rachel's mad enough that she won't be letting him anywhere near her.

He doesn't know which of those scenarios is worse. (Though, he can admit that if they know he's sleeping with their daughter and they don't want to kick his ass, that's pretty cool.)

He walks into the house and up the stairs, and he's so nervous. Like, he has butterflies in his stomach or something, which sucks, because what the hell is that all about? But he hasn't seen her since Christmas/Hanukkah, and he wishes he wasn't such an idiot, so he'd just be able to kiss her senseless and get her naked and say hello that way.

He pushes the door to her room open, and there she is, laying there with her hair in a ponytail and the covers pulled up around her. He can see the strap of her light pink camisole and her bare shoulder, and even that is enough to make his head swim with how much he wants her.

He smiles when she groans a little bit and burrows against the pillow.

"Daddy, I said I'll get up. Just go," she says sleepily.

There's a joke about her calling him daddy, and it's sitting right there on the tip of his tongue, but he can't do it.

Shit, he's evolving.

He sits down at the edge of the bed and leans over to kiss her bare shoulder, and she turns her head to look at him. He's smiling at her, hoping it's an I-know-you're-pissed-at-me-but-look-how-hot-I-am-and-didn't-you-miss-me? smile.

It must not be. She rolls over again and doesn't say anything.

Rachel? Not talking? Unnerving. This is why he hates it.

"Hi," he says quietly. Nothing. "I know you're the queen of the silent treatment, but you wanna maybe talk to me since we haven't seen each other in six months?"

"I'm tired."

It's a piss-poor excuse and they both know it. So he smirks and lays down next to her with his hands clasped over his stomach.

"Well, I hope you can sleep with me laying here talking about my drive home." He thinks he hears her let out a huff (probably pissed that he's stealing her move). "First, I had to load some stuff into my truck, 'cause, you know, I had stuff to bring back that I'd need this summer. Like my guitar and some clothes and whatever, obviously. Then I had to stop for a burger before I hit the road, because that's practically, like, tradition. Then when I got on the highway I put on some Kings Of Leon. You know how good they are? Really awesome. They're probably my favourite band right now. Or maybe Them Crooked Vultures, but the Kings have a bigger body of work, so, you know, they might win out..."

"I hate you," she mumbles into her pillow. He wants to laugh, but it'd probably make her angrier. "I just wanna sleep."

"I just wanna sleep with you," he says, careful to make sure that it doesn't sound like an innuendo.

She rolls over and grabs his hand, pulling him towards her, and he smiles as he presses himself up against her, draping his arm over her. He'd rather be under the covers with her, but he'll take what he can get.

She lets out this little quasi-purring sound that he's sure she doesn't intend for him to hear, and he nuzzles against her neck a little bit.

"I missed you, Berry," he admits, because it's true.

She takes a deep breath, but doesn't really respond. "Sleep."

"Are you mad at me?" he asks quietly, his lips grazing the hinge of her jaw.


"Do you really hate me?" He's smiling, and he's sure she knows it. She weaves her fingers together with his, and he thinks that's a good answer, even if she doesn't speak.

"No," she repeats. He breathes out a sigh of relief, and he doesn't care if she feels it against her skin. He wants her to know that he doesn't want to make her mad or upset or anything. And that even if it's too late for that, she can forgive him and stuff. "I'm just...disappointed."

Well, fuck. That's even worse.

"I'm sorry." It's a whisper, and she feels it more than she hears it. His breath is on her skin, his lips nearly touching her, and it's really hard to stay strong when he's doing this. She knows that's exactly what he wants and why he's doing it. "Babe?"

"Noah, can you please just...stop that?" she asks. She wants to believe his apology, but she doesn't even know if he understands what he's apologizing for. "Ideally, I'd like another hour of sleep. We'll talk after. Can you respect that?"

If he ever made her heart hurt as much as his does now, he hates himself. But he says, "okay," because at least she's not kicking him out, and she's still holding his hand, and she's letting him lay there with her.

He doesn't know how she can just fall asleep. They're fighting (or something) and they haven't seen one another in months. She's barely even looked at him. He wonders how upset she really is. That's the problem with dating a girl with acting skills; sometimes you can't tell what the fuck she's really feeling. If Rachel wants to hide things, it's very likely that he won't find them until she decides he should. He seriously hopes that's not what she's doing now, because the thought of losing her, even a little bit, even taking a step backwards, is just about killing him.

He lays awake and feels her breathing. He toys with her hair a little bit, like he always does, and when she lets out a little mewl, he thinks he's woken her, but she just shifts a little and melts against him some more in her sleep.

As he lays awake with her sleeping next to him, he comes to the conclusion that if she was going to break up with him, she wouldn't be letting him do this. And yeah, she'd probably hate him and have no problem saying it.

He tries to come up with a game plan, what he's going to say to her, and how he's going to make this right. He'd just lead with I love you, but he doesn't want to let her give him any bullshit excuse, like he's just saying it because he wants their fight to be over. When he says it, it'll be because he means it. Basically, he's fucked himself over. How does he apologize for fucking it up in the first place, when he can't say the words without her freaking out about him not meaning them? A smarter guy would have just said them on the phone in the first place, because even that would have been better than this whole fucking situation.

"Stop staring," he hears after a while. He's been there a little over an hour, and she's been sleeping almost as long.

And yeah, he's staring. What can he say? His girl is hot.


She laughs a little and the sound makes him crazy. "No you're not," she argues. She knows him too well.

"Not really," he admits. He leans over and kisses her temple. His one arm is completely asleep, and his hand is hot from her holding it so tightly, but there's no way in hell he's going to complain about any of that. "You're beautiful."

He rarely says anything like that. Like, pretty much never, actually. That doesn't mean it's not true or that he doesn't believe it, he's just not one for the sweet words. Well, that's not true either. It's just that his idea of what's sweet is different from most peoples'. Telling her she looks hot as hell in a pair of jeans is pretty much as sweet as it gets.

She must notice, because she rolls over onto her back and looks at him. She's not wearing any makeup, and her hair's a mess from the pillow. Her cheeks are red from sleep, and her sheets have left lines on her skin. But he stands by his initial statement.

"I look like I've been traveling for months, Noah, with no sleep and very little water. I had to pack my whole room myself, and somehow I accumulated a lot of stuff over the year in New York. I don't know how that is, but I came home with much more than I left with. I think my wardrobe doubled, actually, and only a small portion of that is stage clothes. I look like I need to sleep for three years," she says. He's smiling at her, like no matter how much she talks or what she tells him, he's still going to insist that she's gorgeous. Her heart flutters a little bit with the way he's looking at her. "But thank you."

He winks.

She wishes he loved her like she loves him.

"You're welcome."

She sits up so she's cross-legged, which doesn't help him, because the blankets fall away and she's wearing just these little tiny underwear/short-type things that match her tank top. Then she tugs the elastic from her hair before pulling it up again and fastening it into a tiny ponytail.

If he's not getting laid within the next hour, he's going to be in some serious misery.

Not that that's all he came for.

"Okay. I'm ready for your apology, Noah," she says seriously. His girl is seriously a freak. She prepares for her conversations like they're stage productions. He looks at her for a moment, then her shoulders fall. "That is why you came over, isn't it?"

"Well, yeah," he says. He sits up, too, because if he's laying on his back any longer, he's just going to grab her and show her how he feels, and he's pretty sure she needs to hear the words.


"Jesus, woman, give me a damn second," he mumbles. She punches his arm and they're smiling at one another. "So, I'm sorry."

She stares at him, blinking in disbelief, for a few moments. "That's it? Do you even know what you're apologizing for?"

"Don't pull that chick shit with me, Rachel. We both know why I'm apologizing," he says. She just crosses her arms (he honestly can't help it when his eyes fall to her chest; it's her own fault). "You've been pissed at me for like, two weeks. I'm sick of it."

"So that's why you're apologizing?" she asks, her brow raised.

He knows she's right. He should be spelling it all out for her, but he's pretty fucking embarrassed actually, and he's never been good at this stuff. "I'm apologizing because I upset you that day...on the phone. And I shouldn't have done that." She kind of half-smiles at him, so he think she's on the right track. He stands up and moves away from her, because he knows he's going to kiss her if he doesn't. "Sometimes I just say stupid shit. You know that."

Her face falls. Shit, shit, shit. What'd he do wrong!?

"Yes, your admission of love probably was stupid. I don't know why I so badly wanted to believe it," she says coldly.


"I mean, we've only been together for months and been friends for years."

She stands up and turns her back on him, shuffling some papers on her desk. (So what if he looks at her ass? It's barely covered right now, and that's not his fault.) But she's seriously upset, and he can't blame her.

He needs to fix this somehow.

"Look, I didn't..."

"Oh, my gosh, Noah," she sighs, turning around to face him. "I get it. You didn't mean it." She wraps her arms around herself, and when he steps towards her, she takes a step back. "It's completely unnecessary for you to beat me over the head with it. I just can't even begin to understand why you'd say the words in the first place."

She looks so sad and hurt and everything, and he hates it, but he's also kind of pissed because she won't let him talk this out. So he figures he'll take a more direct approach and make her listen.

"Because I do fucking love you!" he shouts.

Her hands drop to her sides and she looks at him, tears swimming in her pretty eyes, and he runs his hand over his head. "What?" she breathes out.

"I just thought...I didn't want it to be like that. I thought you'd want something...fucking...special or something. Like flowers and candles and fucking Mariah Carey playing in the background or some shit," he says in frustration.

He does not love it when she starts laughing.

"You're an idiot," she says, wiping at her eyes. "Honestly. My boyfriend is the stupidest man in the world. I don't know how I ended up with someone so dense."

"Okay, are you trying to kick me in the balls? Because that's what you're doing," he says hotly, glaring at her. "Fuck, Rachel, you know I suck at all this. Talking. And feelings. And fucking...being a boyfriend, and..."

"Noah, shut up," she insists. She walks towards him and he refuses to look at her, so she rests her hands on his face and forces him to. "Do you love me?"

"I just fucking said..."

"Noah," she says calmly, "do you love me?"

He sighs and grits his teeth before noticing how soft her eyes are, how smooth her hands are on his skin. "Yes. I love you."

She smiles and kind of bites her lip, and he can't decide if he's turned on or pissed or both. "Really?"

"Christ, Rach! How many times do you need me to say it?" he asks, pulling away from her. "I love you. I don't even know how long I've been in love with you. A fucking long time. You're this crazy, annoying...perfect girl, and, yeah, I love you. Alright?"

She launches herself into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist, and he's glad the bed is behind him, because he stumbles and falls backwards, then he's laying on his back with Rachel on top of him, kissing his face all over.

What the fuck just happened?

She pulls away a little, rubbing his earlobes slowly between her thumbs and forefingers (seriously, she's driving him insane right now). She's looking at him, and her eyes look so amazing that he can't look away. She's all warm against him, and she's obviously happy, and he doesn't think he's ever felt better.

"Noah, I love you too," she says quietly.

(Now he feels better.)

"So you decided to attack me?" he teases.

She kisses him and nips at his bottom lip. "You're an idiot," she repeats. He actually smiles as he grips her hips. "You're lucky I love you."

She pulls her shirt off, then leans down to kiss him again, so he gets distracted and doesn't get a chance to tell her that he knows exactly how lucky he is.

The fourth of July, their fireworks trump the rest of the festivities. All their friends laugh at them, since they've never seen the two of them as a proper couple, and all they do is fight all day. He's wearing a white tee shirt and jeans, and apparently, that's not festive enough. So that fight takes up the entire morning and into the afternoon, until he says something about not really wanting to go to the fairgrounds, and she tells him it's tradition and he has to come, whether he likes it or not. Tina laughs when Puck sighs and lets her grab at his hand. He thinks he hears Kurt say "whipped" but Puck ignores it because what the fuck does Kurt know about being in love with a chick as crazy as Rachel? Nothing, that's what.

Then he tells her she's crazy for not eating hot dogs (that's his tradition, but it does nothing to sway her when he tells her that). She says something about processed meats or some shit, and then goes into detail on how hot dogs are actually made, and everyone cringes and puts their food down. Puck eats four, just to piss her off, and she says she's not kissing him for the rest of the day.

So he spends the rest of the day trying to make her kiss him.

That's when it starts getting fun.

He tries to sneak up on her, using their friends as distractions so he can try to get his lips on hers. But she squeals and hits him or shoves at him or runs away. She hides behind Finn, clutching his tee shirt, and everyone laughs because they realize just how weird it is for her to be using her ex-boyfriend as a shield from her current boyfriend.

They're watching a not-entirely-horrible band (and by that, Puck means to say 'they're not as awesome as me, but they don't suck either') in the evening. She's sipping a strawberry milkshake (he bought it for her and slyly reminded her that strawberry is his favourite) and talking to Quinn, laughing and dancing just a little bit. Kurt comes over and pulls Quinn away, insisting that she dance with him. It's a total ploy; Puck made a threat that they both knew was empty, but Kurt agreed anyway, because he admits he wants to see these two kiss, probably more than anyone else.

Puck walks up behind Rachel, winking at Artie as he passes (Artie's just shaking his head, because this whole game is ridiculous and just full of sexual tension, which he's pretty sure Rachel and Puck don't need anyway).

He doesn't touch her, but he gets right up close to her so that his breath is hitting her skin. She's got a bit of a glow, since it's hot and humid, and there're a few little beads of sweat above her brow that immediately make him think about a bunch of stuff he can't do with (to) her while they're in public. He knows she knows he's there. He can tell from the breath she takes and the way she sets her shoulders and straightens her posture.

"Just kiss me, babe. You know you want to," he says softly.

She turns around, slips her arm around his neck and presses her body up against his. His eyes go dark immediately, and she bites her bottom lip as she smiles up at him.

"Noah," she says. He honestly doesn't think she's ever been so sexy.


It takes everything in her not to laugh at him. He's so easy sometimes. "You're not going to win."

She pushes herself away from him and heads to the dance floor, and he's only reminded that they're around other people when Artie and Finn start laughing at him and Mercedes snaps her fingers and walks away, following Rachel.

She somehow convinces him to dance, and he doesn't really know how that happens, because she made it pretty clear that he won't be getting anything out of it. But then there's the sexy sway of her hips to Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin', and he's taking a deep breath, because every fucking man in the place is watching her, and he needs to make it perfectly clear that she's not to be messed with. And that he'll get fighty if they continue to stare at her like she's some kind of prize.

(She's his prize, and he doesn't care how lame that makes him. Fuck it. He has her now, and he's not gonna make it a secret.)

So he rests his hands on her hips and she wraps hers around his shoulders, and he won't lie, it's kind of nice to just dance with her (shut up). The band launches into Open Arms right after, and Puck wonders if this is some kind of Journey tribute band or something, but he's distracted by Rachel softly singing the words to the song.

He kisses the palm of her hand before they rejoin their friends.

She borrows Kurt's hand sanitizer. Everyone laughs but Puck.

They're all spreading out sleeping bags or blankets on the grass of the field where the fireworks are going to be set off. He's taking a drink from a bottle of water when he catches her staring.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," Kurt says dramatically. "Would you just kiss her already?"

Puck laughs and wordlessly hands Kurt the half-full bottle of water. He walks over to where she's standing, trying not to look like she was just gazing at him like he's a fucking piece of meat (not that he minds).

He hooks his arm around her waist and pulls her against him, then his hand slips into her hair, and she doesn't even have time to protest before he leans her back a little bit and kisses her as best he knows how. (Which, for the record, is really fucking good.) Their friends whistle and clap (and mumble finally, and Finn hands Kurt a $10 bill) and Rachel's all dazed and red in the face when he pulls away.

"You didn't even try to stop me," he says with a laugh.

She kisses him again quickly, then leans up to speak in his ear. "Let's get out of here."

They wave in passing to their friends, neither of them caring if they're being rude.

She tells him she still wants to see the fireworks. She rolls her eyes when he roguishly suggests that, oh, I'll make you see fireworks. She laughs, but shakes her head and tells him to behave.

They end up at the football field, and she just smiles and scales the fence and acts like the teenager she doesn't feel like sometimes. He tosses over the blanket he keeps in his truck, then follows her.

They watch the fireworks, her sitting between his legs and his arms around her. Amid the boom and crack of the lights above, he kisses her temple and says, "love you," into her ear.

She'd bet money that she's never loved him more than right this second. And it's not because he's doing what she wants to do, or because he's being so sweet, or because he isn't cursing or making sexual references.

It's because he's being honest, completely truthful, and he's no longer the kind of boy (man) who wants to keep everything hidden. She likes to think she had something to do with that.

But when she finds herself beneath him, him settled between her legs as he kisses her and lays her back on the blanket, she certainly doesn't love him any less.

They make love on the 50 yard line, and she buries her head against his chest when he tells her that he's never had sex on the football field before, that she's his first.

He would really love it if how they started their summer set the tone for the rest of it.

But he's still a complete jerk sometimes, and she still drives him absolutely insane sometimes, and they're both such honest people that neither has a problem making all that known.

She practices like, all. the. time. She's back in dance classes, has a local acting coach, and though she doesn't have a personal trainer, she commits herself to working out at least 40 minutes a day.

And if he interrupts any of this, god forbid, he swears sometimes he's scared for his health. The thing is, with all this shit she does, sometimes he feels like she doesn't have time for him.

Of course, he's not enough of a pussy to actually say that, you know, like a normal person. Instead, he talks to her until she gives up and either pays attention to him or kicks him out.

At least half the time, it's the latter.

One morning, just a few weeks before they're set to go back to school, he walks in when she's working on arpeggios (and yeah, he knows what those are, thank you very much). This time, she actually called him and told him to come over. So he's a little pissed that she holds up both hands and tells him she'll be just 10 more minutes. He sighs and flops down on the sofa and tries not to be really annoyed as she works up to like, ear bursting high tones.

10 minutes turns into 20. 20 turns into 35.

He gets up to leave.

"What are you doing?" she asks. He glares at her.

"What the fuck does it look like I'm doing?" She puts her hand on her hip. "I'm leaving."

"I'm almost done. Just wait a few minutes," she says. He rolls his eyes. "Noah, you know how important it is for me to maintain, if not better, my technique and training. Classes start in just a month, and I need to be..."

"Yeah, Berry, I get it. Classes start. I don't want to talk about that right now," he insists. She looks at him like she doesn't understand, and he thinks that for such a smart girl, she can be pretty fucking dumb sometimes. "You think I wanna talk about you leaving again? No thanks."


"I'm going."

"Don't just leave," she says, walking towards him. He's already turning the doorknob. "Would you just listen to me? Gosh, I swear it's like I'm dealing with a child sometimes."

(Okay, so she can admit that she probably shouldn't have said that.)

He looks at her, and she feels about two inches tall, and also like she knows she's just hurt him far more than he deserves.

As he pulls the door open, he tries to think of something, anything, that might hurt her. (What? He's changed, but he hasn't changed that much. And she just made him feel like a complete piece of shit, so he figures it's allowed.) So he says the first thing that comes to mind.

"I hate it when you wear your hair like that." He points to her head (it's all pulled back into this severe bun thing like she wears when she's dancing) and she gasps like he's just slapped her across the face.

Mission accomplished.

He steps outside and she follows him, stopping at the threshold of the house while he walks towards his truck.

"Well, I think your mohawk is ridiculously adolescent!" she shouts at him angrily, her knuckles gripping the door so hard she thinks the skin might break.

"Bitch!" he yells back bitingly.

The door slams and he thinks his heart breaks.

He stomps into his house and slams the door, then throws his keys onto the hall table and seriously thinks about punching the wall, but his mom steps out from the kitchen, so he thinks twice.

She Oh, Noah's him, which she's always done when she's seen him upset, and looks at him all soft like she can't bear to see him in any kind of pain. Call him a mama's boy, but he loves this shit. His mom is awesome, when she's not talking garbage about naming his kids (Meir and Elijah? No thanks, crazy woman) or when he might be ready to marry Rachel ("Such a nice Jewish girl, Noah.")

At this point, he's thinking he's never going to marry that insane chick.

Like, ever.

His mom gets him cookies and milk, like he's a four year old (but whatever, because you're never too old for Fudgee-o's and milk) and insists that he tell her everything, and she knows right away that it's all about Rachel.

She hits the nail on the head (he doesn't let her know) when she says that he's only upset because he loves Rachel so much. The way she says it, it's like she's already got the wedding invitations drawn up or something, and so he says, "fuck, mom," like it's crazy that he'd ever even be thinking about marriage in the first place. He doesn't even care when she smacks him upside the head, because he probably deserves it anyway.

(He has thought about marriage, once or twice. Once when he was forced to watch Funny Girl and Fanny or whatever was going on and on about being a Sadie. Another when Rachel was standing in her bathroom, blow drying her hair with nothing but a towel on while he laid in her bed and watched, and he had the feeling that he could watch her do that every single day. And yeah, after that he wondered what the fuck he was doing and who he was turning into. But then Rachel asked him what he was staring at and he just answered, "you," and the smile she gave him made it all kind of worth it.)

His mom tells him that all any woman ever wants is a little proof that the man she loves really loves her back.

Well, fuck. He's pretty sure he could have figured that out on his own. It might have taken him a little longer, though, and who knows? By now she might be shaving her head or something, since she's probably so offended about him bitching about her hair style.

He slaps his hand on his leg, because he's just given himself the best idea ever, and he kisses his mom's cheek quickly (she says, "Oh!" because he hasn't done it in years) before he runs upstairs.

Rachel has to know that he loves her. He's pretty much told her every day all summer (shut up; he likes the little smile she gives when he says the words) so she shouldn't have any doubt. But if she needs some kind of other reminder, or maybe an apology, too, he'll give it to her.

When he walks downstairs, his mom just laughs at him, and he's smirking as he shrugs his shoulder, grabs his keys, and says he'll be back in a while.

Rachel's front door is locked when he gets there, and he can't say he really blames her for wanting to keep him from just walking in (and he's always giving her shit for leaving the door unlocked when she's home alone anyway). So he knocks for the first time in what feels like forever, and he hears her stomping towards the door, like she's still pissed and she knows it's him.

She pulls the door open with a sigh, and he tries really, really hard not to stare at her. Her hair is down now, and all curled at the ends from being wound so tightly before. It's cascading around her shoulders, and she's changed into a light blue summer dress and that little 'XO' necklace she's had for years (her dads gave it to her on her 13th birthday, she once told him). She looks so, so beautiful, and he's really, really glad he decided to come back at this exact second, because who knows what she'd look like even five minutes from now?

(And yeah, this is how he thinks about her when he thinks about her. Like every single second he sees her is different from the last. Fuck, he love this girl.)

And she's looking at him all wide eyed, with her jaw slack, and he can tell she's trying not to smile. He shrugs and grins at her.

"You shaved your head," she says. He runs a hand over the place where his sweet-ass 'hawk used to be. "You shaved your head!?"

"You took out that stupid bun thing," he retorts. (He'll admit it. He's not above school-ground tactics.)

She tilts her head and smiles really sweetly. "You shaved your head," she says dreamily.

He laughs softly and rolls his eyes. "You gonna say anything else? Or maybe invite me in?" he asks.

She steps forward and kisses him, glancing to his head and running her hands over his hair. "You don't need an invitation anymore, Noah."

He kisses her again, steps inside, and she slips her hand into his. He apologizes, and she apologizes, and she wipes the strawberry lip gloss from his lips. She tells him she loves him, that she's scared to go back to New York, and he spends the rest of the afternoon talking to her about how amazing she's going to be. She's not fishing for compliments or anything, she's just anxious about being away from him. He almost thinks it's cute, the way she's all worried about furnishing the apartment she and her dads have found for her in Murray Hill.

She shyly tells him that she might have the place for a few years and she wants it to feel like both of them, and he smiles and kisses her, because she's basically asking him to move to New York, and fucking finally, because he's been waiting for her to tell him that she wants him to stick around for a while.

All he asks is that the bed is comfortable. She swats his chest and laughs as her cheeks turn pink, and like always, he wonders how it's even possible that she can't take his innuendos, even now when they've been together for so long.

"It's the element of surprise, Noah," she says, her head laying on his shoulder as they sit on her sofa. "And it's really a very good thing."

It takes him a while to figure out exactly what that means, but he finally gets it.

He's not boring. He's an idiot, sometimes, and the fights make them both crazy, but the make ups are always worth it, and they'll always make up, because they love each other so goddamn much that it's hard to breathe when things are less than perfect between them. And yeah, maybe that makes him a sucker, but he doesn't fucking care, because if you loved a girl like Rachel Berry, you'd probably think the same thing too.

She tells him that she loves him, and he whispers that he knows and he loves her too. She admits that she doesn't really want to leave him again, and he pulls her closer and kisses her harder and tells her that he's glad she feels the same way he does. He doesn't want her to go, and he's not afraid to say it this time. She reminds him that the summer isn't over yet, and the tone of her voice lets him know that she's got big plans for him for the day and for the rest of the summer. (Make up sex first, of course. He's also got Indians tickets and plans to totally slushie her one night before she leaves, and he figures that's okay because he's more than willing to help clean her off now.)

She can't stop running her hand over the stubble on his head when she's kissing him, and it makes him smile against her lips as he toys with her own hair. It's the first time since he was 14 that he doesn't have a mohawk, and he thinks he might like it. Actually, he thinks she likes it, and just maybe that's more important right now.

(The next time he sits and watches while she takes her ballet lesson, her hair is in a loose bun with pieces falling around her face. Shaving his head was so worth it.)

"Noah!" she calls when she walks through the door. He doesn't answer. "Noah?"

She doesn't know where he'd be if he's not in the living room or kitchen, but she sees his keys, wallet and phone sitting on the coffee table, so she doesn't get too worried. She steps into the kitchen, humming the last song she heard, and pours herself a glass of water.

Which she almost drops when an arm snakes around her waist and someone's breath hits her neck.

He can feel her heart beating faster, the little rush of adrenaline she gets when he startles her, and he smirks as he kisses the side of her neck. His hand has slipped beneath her shirt to rest on her flat stomach, and she sets her glass on the counter.

Turning around to face him, she does her best to scowl, and says, "I hate you," and she doesn't mean it at all.

You'd think after all this time, she'd be used to him scaring her every chance he gets. He thinks it's especially funny, since their apartment isn't very big at all, and yet he can still sneak up behind her, at least once a week, and scare the shit out of her.

The kitchen is dark, but he can still see the little sparkle in her eye that she always gets after performing. "Good show?" he asks.

"Standing ovation," she says with a perfect mix of pride and modesty.

"That's my girl," he says as he leans in to kiss her.

He moved to New York after his junior year at OSU. His program offered off-campus study and an internship, and New York was the only place he would even consider going. Rachel literally squealed into the phone when he told her he was approved to work with a minor-league hockey team as assistant trainer, and he told her to make some room for him. He never actually asked if he could move in with her.

There wasn't really any question about it, was there? She had a ring on her left hand, so he figured it was okay for him to pick up and move; that she might not mind if he lived with her.

That was three years ago.

Now she's the lead in an off-Broadway show, and he's the head trainer for an arena football team, and it might seem like everything's happened really easily for them, but there was a time when it was all fighting and worry over how they'd pay their rent. They barely saw each other, because he had a job he worked every day after his internship, and she worked at Starbucks. (And yeah, he made fun of her for that for sure, but assured her that he still loved her anyway). They saw each other a couple hours a day, and even then, they were both studying or trying to sleep. It wasn't easy. Not at all.

But it was all worth it when he got the call about his job (Rachel actually cried and hugged him so tightly that he thought she was going to hurt him). He was there for her so she could cry on his shoulder after every audition for every part she didn't get, and he lifted her up and spun her around when she finally landed a role in a tiny little play. It paid practically nothing, and she had five lines and sang harmonies in two songs, and he knew she hated every second, but she did it with a smile, because it was what she had to do to make it. That lead to more roles, bigger roles, and eventually this lead, her name in lights on the marquis outside the theater.

Now she's getting rave reviews and auditioning for Broadway shows and just waiting for that next break, and Noah stands by her through all of it. She goes to all the games she can, the ones on Mondays, which are her days off, and watches him as he works and cheers on 'his' players.

"Mom called today," he tells her as he pulls away and takes a seat at the kitchen table. Rachel refills her glass and sits across from him, draping her legs over his lap. He massages her calves, always a little sore after a performance. (See? There are perks to living with an athletic trainer.) "She reminded me that my cousin is pregnant."

Rachel laughs and shakes her head. "Yes, Noah. Your cousin has been pregnant for eight months. Your mother is a lot of things, but I'm afraid subtle isn't one of them."

He shrugs his shoulder and smiles at her, and she can feel the metal of his wedding band as he moves his hand over her tired muscles. She sighs and runs her hand through her hair, then lets out a little noise when he kneads at her calf.

"Too hard?" he asks.

Her eyes are closed and she shakes her head, and he cannot stop staring at her. "Just right."

It's not the first time, or the second time, or probably even the fiftieth time they've sat in their darkened little kitchen like this, and if you would have asked him at 16 if at 25 happily married (to Rachel Berry) have a bachelors degree and a steady job he loves, he probably would have looked at you like you were nuts, because there was no way he'd ever be good enough to accomplish all that.

But then there was Rachel, all along the way, reminding him that he never gave himself the credit he deserved. Most of the time, she believed in him enough for the both of them.

And Rachel, as a teenager, never thought she'd be married to Noah Puckerman, of all people. He's changed, and he's different (perfect) and she loves him so much that sometimes it makes her question herself. He's still crass and brash and he still makes her crazy sometimes with the way he can say entirely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time.

("Can't we just get married at City Hall?" "I don't fucking care what colour you paint the living room." "Do you really need to practice after your practices?" "What do you mean it's our first anniversary?" And he was lucky that last one was a joke, though he let her think for the entire day that he was serious, just so he could surprise her with the most perfect dinner ever.)

He makes her crazy, and she probably rolls her eyes at him a hundred times a day. He knows she does things just to get under his skin sometimes, and they both know that she hates it when he calls her Puck, now (what? it's her last name, too) but he still does it every once in a while, because, well, she looks hot when she's mad.

But she admitted a long time ago that he's exactly what she needs.

And was there ever really anybody else?